CARSON, Calif. -- In an often awkward and ugly affair at the Dignity Health Sports Park, Rey Vargas retained his WBC junior featherweight title by outpointing Japanese challenger Tomoki Kameda on Saturday night.
All three judges scored the fight 117-110 for Vargas.
Loud boos poured in at the end of the bout and after the decision was rendered; while Vargas (34-0, 22 KOs) was effective, he was far from exciting. Kameda (36-3, 20 KOs) certainly tried his best to make a fight, but his efforts were mostly futile.
While the decision was unpopular, it was the correct one.
Vargas is one of the toughest matchups in boxing. Listed at nearly 5-foot-11 -- significantly tall for a 122-pounder -- he can control distance from the outside and is adept at smothering his foes as they get close. While not a particularly crowd-pleasing style, it works for Vargas, who methodically wins one round after another.
That continued Saturday night.
"The idea was to throw a lot of punches and to have a very intelligent fight," said Vargas, who made his fifth title defense. "I believe that we made this a very smart fight, an intelligent one. This is a boxer's style, to fight with precision. I believe that he brought a lot of fans from Japan, and that's why they don't agree with the decision."
Kameda tried his best to close the gap and rush inside on Vargas, but oftentimes he was devoid of the jab and had problems gauging distance. That left him in positions where he couldn't land clean punches and then ended up in a clinch with the champ.
"First of all, I want to say thank you to everyone," Kameda said. "I recognize Vargas. I believe that he won the fight tonight, and I respect him as a champion. He won. I need to learn and to practice more in order to get another chance to be champion again. I am very grateful for all the Mexican people. I want to be world champion again."
Moving forward, Vargas would like to add a couple of more belts to his collection. Asked whom he wanted to face next, he pointed to the IBF and WBA belt holder.
"Danny Roman," Vargas said. "We need to unify titles -- why not? I want all three titles. Danny, we are ready. I am ready whenever you want to fight. You know when a Mexican fights another Mexican, it's a war."
Rios stops De La Hoya
Junior featherweight Ronny Rios came up with a career-resurrecting victory by halting Diego De La Hoya in six rounds in an entertaining, back-and-forth battle.
The end came when Rios (30-4, 15 KOs) landed a picture-perfect right uppercut during an exchange with De La Hoya (21-1, 10 KOs) that sent him to one knee. As he got to his feet, the fight was waved off by referee Rudy Barragan.
"I feel great. It is an unbelievable feeling. Especially winning in front of my friends and family who came out here to support me -- I want to thank you guys from the bottom of my heart," said Rios, who hails from nearby Santa Ana and had plenty of support in the building. "I did this for me, but I dedicate this victory to you guys."
The bout had a fast tempo from the beginning, as both quick-fisted boxers weren't shy about letting their hands go. Rios, who lost his 2017 attempt vs. Vargas in this same venue, was very deliberate in his approach and wasn't shy about unleashing left hooks to the body and throwing right hands over the top.
The normally elusive De La Hoya was hit often during back-and-forth volleys with Rios, and his nose was bloodied early. While neither fighter is considered a heavy puncher, Rios' blows had more impact.
The scores at the time of the stoppage: 50-46 Rios, 50-45 De La Hoya and 49-46 Rios.
"I told him (Barragan) that I didn't feel good," De La Hoya said. "I don't know what it was. I was hurt in my head. I didn't feel well. I didn't feel right. I did my best camp possible and I didn't do that in the ring. You have to accept the losses just like you accept the wins."
In a venue where he had his biggest career disappointment against Vargas, Rios came up with perhaps his most important victory.
"I was in a dark place," said Rios, who credited his trainer for the revival.
"It was very hard to come back, but thanks to my team, especially Hector Lopez, who pushed me. He got me mad, he got me irritated at times. But man, he inspired me to come back, and not for anyone else, but for myself."
After the Vargas loss, Rios was stopped in six rounds by Azat Hovhannisyan in 2018, but has since reeled off two victories.
"I am proof to fighters all around the world: No matter how many times you lose, you can still come back as long as you believe in yourself," he said. "No matter what -- boxing, your career -- just go for it, man. I am not done. I still have a lot more years left. This was a hard camp; I pushed them. They told me to ease up. I would tell them that my opponent was outworking us and I kept pushing."
Gutierrez stuns Hernandez early
In a stunning upset, previously undefeated Rocky Hernandez, the highly touted 21-year-old junior lightweight from Mexico, was knocked out in the first round by Roger Gutierrez.
Gutierrez was cut inside the mouth early but weathered the storm from the aggressive Hernandez (28-1, 25 KOs) and began to turn the tide with a series of right hands set up by his long jab.
After a few right hands stopped Hernandez in his tracks, a final blow from Gutierrez (22-3-1, 19 KOs) sent him to the canvas. Hernandez tried to rise but was shaky on his feet and deemed unable to continue by Barragan.
"I won with my mentality," said the 24-year-old Venezuelan, who entered the fight as a heavy underdog. "I came in here to rip his head off, and that's what you saw. It was my mentality that made the difference. Everyone on my team, my family, my parents, my children -- they all believed in me. That's how I did it."
Hernandez was thought to be on the fast track to a world title shot. Now, he faces an uncertain future in the wake of an unexpected loss.